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T. Stamm

The Teachers and the Class Struggle

(December 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 57, 30 December 1933, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

One reason teachers have been slow to struggle is that they constituted an aristocratic stratum of the working class. Their wage level was higher than the average wage level of the workers. They enjoyed job security to a great extent and all sorts of perquisites the worker in mine or factory never had under capitalist rule. And on top of that they are permeated with bourgeois ideology to a degree that places them, in this sense, at the rear of the class.

But all that is beginning to change now. The crisis is affecting them ruthlessly. The signs point to resistance by them against the attacks on their teaching and living conditions.

Teachers’ salaries in New York and elsewhere are fixed by law and are changeable only by legislative action in the state legislature or local governmental agency. In the first three years of the crisis prices fell precipitately. Teachers wages, consequently, which apparently remained fixed actually rose in purchasing value. This appreciation together with the yearly increments made mandatory under the law in some cities, constituted a more or leas steady improvement in their condition.

Only when the crisis began to interfere with the smooth functioning of this ideal set-up, as in Chicago where no wages were paid for the better part of a year, did the teachers put up some kind of a fight. In New York the state legislature cut wages about six percent. Five hundred teachers joined the Teachers Union in New York City in the period of the wage cut fight.

Schools everywhere are closing or curtailing their terms. Teachers wages are in arrears and are piling up. Further wage cuts are impending. The conditions for organized resistance are maturing.

In New York the defense fight is centering around the attempt by one means or another to prevent legislative reduction of wages and reduction or abolishment of increments. In itself this fight is correct. But it is not sufficient even from the point of view of defeating attempts to cut wages.

Wages are reduced in other ways than by legislative action. The government is making determined efforts to drive prices up to, at least the 1926 level. With wages fixed up by legislative action the rising cost of living will constitute a wage cut. If the government resorts to currency inflation to accomplish its purpose the real wage cut will be drastic.

The experience of the inflation of 1861–65, is very instructive. Teachers wages then were fixed by law. Within that period the average wage of the teachers on a national scale was increased by 37.4 per cent. But, as a result of the currency inflation prices rose 116.8 percent. Consequently, teachers salaries, measured in terms of their real purchasing power, fell to 62.3 of the 1860 basis a practical wage cut of 37.7 per cent, It follows that even a successful fight against legislative reductions of wages will not, necessarily, prevent wage cuts. That does not mean that this fight should be abandoned. It means that it should be broadened.

Just as the workers struggle for higher wages to keep pace with rising prices so should the teachers organize and fight for higher wages to meet the increase in the cost of living.

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Last updated: 4 January 2016